Planes, Trees, and Parks

Southwest planeWhat do planes have to do with trees and parks?  I would not be surprised if you asked.  I did not see the connection either until I recently heard about what JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines are doing.  Specifically, the two airlines have initiated campaigns to plant trees and improve parks in the cities they serve.  This is encouraging news as I believe that in addition to the government, the private sector must also be involved in meeting the need for green spaces in communities across the United States.  As I shared previously in my article Partnerships for Parks, I am very supportive of “cross-sector collaboration” which is defined by University of Minnesota professors Bryson, Crosby, and Stone as “the linking or sharing of information, resources, activities, and capabilities by organizations in two or more sectors to achieve jointly an outcome that could not be achieved by organizations in one sector separately.”  With limited public funding for parks and recreation programs, cross-sector collaboration has emerged as an effective way to provide much needed green spaces and recreational services, especially in underserved communities.  With this article, I would like to feature JetBlue’s One Thing That’s Green campaign and Southwest’s Heart of the Community initiative.

One Thing That’s Green

I first heard about this campaign on the radio.  Each year for the past six years, JetBlue has partnered with New York Restoration Project (NYRP) and its MillionTreesNYC initiative to plant trees and complete beautification projects.  The One Thing That’s Green annual campaign reflects the airline’s commitment to environmentalism and the communities it serves.  Now in its 7th year, this JetBlue effort has become a regular event in communities throughout the New York metro area where the airline is headquartered.  Since 2008, One Thing That’s Green has contributed by planting 1,333 trees and cleaning up almost three tons of trash throughout New York City in an effort to improve air quality.  Those trees are expected to remove nearly 35,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the course of their lives.  JetBlue One Thing Thats GreenThis year’s initiative will bring a little greenery to the scenery of several cities served by JetBlue.  Customers and crewmembers are encouraged to vote to improve and beautify their local communities with green spaces.  Throughout the month of April, customers and community members can visit to vote for JetBlue’s next green space.  Customers can vote by selecting their favorite city from the route map on the One Thing That’s Green Facebook tab.  Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Burbank are local cities shown on the route map.  JetBlue will announce the community it has selected on May 1, 2014 and construction of the green space will take place in the fall.

To celebrate Earth Day, the airline is planting trees and participating in community clean-ups in New York and Boston.  On April 19, crewmembers and customers worked together to plant trees in Queens, New York.  Over 250 volunteers worked side-by-side to plant 100 trees, clean up public spaces and beautify a garden in New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Woodside Houses in Woodside, Queens.  This tree-planting event was an important step in the continued rebuilding of New York City’s tree canopy.  Also, on April 26, 1,200 crewmembers, customers and community members will volunteer to help clean up the Charles River in Boston.  In addition, JetBlue will host a celebration festival at the Hatch Shell on the River and will raffle tickets to attendees.  Charles River Watershed Association was formed in 1965 in response to public concern about the declining condition of the Charles River.

Heart of the Community

Southwest Heart of the CommunityEarlier this month, Southwest initiated a multi-year commitment to “placemaking,” a movement that reimagines public spaces as the heart of every community.  Through its Heart of the Community program, the airline will seek to revitalize and activate public spaces in the core of American cities in partnership with the nonprofit organization, Project for Public Spaces (PPS).  Building upon successful pilot projects in Detroit and Providence, Rhode Island, in 2013, Southwest and PPS will help transform multiple public spaces this year with the intent to expand the Heart of the Community program and support dozens of public spaces through projects in the near future.  In late 2013, Southwest provided a monetary gift to support the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning‘s research white paper, Places in the Making, which demonstrates the power of placemaking to create connected, sustainable, healthy, and economically viable communities.  The research focuses on placemaking’s positive impact on community building and empowerment, and reveals the need for more public/private partnerships to advance the practice of placemaking.

Through the Heart of the Community program, Southwest and PPS will collaborate with local community partners in cities across the U.S. to revitalize their public spaces.  In early April, Southwest and PPS unveiled their most recent project in San Antonio, Texas, where they partnered with the Center City Development Office to activate historic Travis Park through new physical amenities, including games, tables and chairs, umbrellas, and ongoing programming, such as fitness classes and live music.  In 2013, Southwest and PPS worked with the Downtown Detroit Partnership to transform an underutilized lawn in downtown’s Campus Martius Park into a seasonal beach with a deck and seating that serves as a fun and relaxing gathering place for workers, families and children.  In addition, they worked with the Downtown Providence Parks Conservancy to create the Imagination Center, a new place for family activities in Burnside Park, located in the heart of downtown Providence.


As a park planner, I am very excited to hear about what JetBlue and Southwest are doing in our communities.  I hope more companies follow their examples to help improve cities across the country, especially those neighborhoods that are underserved.  Local governments alone cannot meet the growing and diverse park and recreation needs of communities, despite their best efforts and intentions due to budgetary and other constraints.  Thus we must adopt an approach that focuses on the provision of park and recreational services in a variety of ways and settings involving a diverse group of stakeholders (even airlines!).  Specifically, this means providing more and improved recreational services through multiple-use facilities and partnerships with other public, nonprofit, and private organizations.


Photo credits:

Southwest Airlines plane by author

One Thing That’s Green screenshot from (click on One Thing That’s Green)

Heart of the Community screenshot from

Profile photo of Clement Lau About Clement Lau

Clement Lau, AICP, has 15 years of professional experience in urban and regional planning. Currently, Dr. Lau is a Departmental Facilities Planner with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. He enjoys writing about a variety of planning issues and is on the author panel for UrbDeZine. He also has published articles in the California Planning & Development Report, Public Works Management & Policy, and Progressive Planning. Dr. Lau previously worked for Los Angeles County's Department of Regional Planning and the consulting firm of Cotton/Bridges/Associates in Pasadena. He has guest lectured on public policy and urban planning topics at the University of Southern California and California State University, Northridge. He holds a doctorate and master's in urban planning from USC, and bachelor's in economics from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.